City considers accepting donation of NAT

Coronado Performing Arts Center (CPAC) Board Chairman Richard Nordlof came forward to identify himself as the anonymous buyer of the New American Theater (NAT), which was forced to close its doors Dec. 15 after nearly 35 years.

The 280-seat playhouse at 118 N. Main St. had been struggling financially for years, and found itself going increasingly deeper in the hole.

Using the pseudonym “Arts Angels,” Nordlof, a former member of the AMCORE Bank Board of Directors, reportedly purchased the theater in May for $135,000 from the AMCORE Investment Group after NAT defaulted on its nearly $418,000 mortgage.

In addition to donating theater memorabilia to the Midway Village & Museum Center and the costumes to Rock Valley College, Nordlof has now offered to donate NAT to the City of Rockford, but Mayor Larry Morrissey’s (I) office is being cautious because of the expenses the city would have to bear.

“We are very flattered by Mr. Nordlof’s offer of the NAT building,” Morrissey stated. “At this point in time, we are at the early stages of discussing the best way of moving forward on this project. There are several practical matters, such as long-term maintenance of the building and best management practices, that we need to work through as we move forward.”

Although the city would assume costs associated with the theater, Nordlof wants CPAC to retain control of operations while renting the facility to various theater companies.

According to former NAT Board President Ron Clewer, the theater’s estimated annual overhead cost is $200,000. Clewer added operating expenses run between $75,000 and $125,000. Two-week cast and crew payroll for NAT’s final production, Oliver!, was around $40,000.

Even as the announcement was made NAT would close its doors immediately, the Mayor's Office was in contact with Nordlof and indicated the possibility of the city purchasing the facility.

Excited by the possibility NAT will remain a performing arts venue, Morrissey plans to continue working closely with Nordlof and the Rockford Area Arts Council to that end.

Following news of NAT’s closure, an anonymous donor pledged $100,000 to the theater if the city or county were to take over.

Asked whether that offer still stood, Mayor Morrissey responded, “Without getting into any specifics, I’m aware of a number of folks who have been involved in some discussions, informally mostly, on potential support.”

Morrissey said once costs of running, repairing and maintaining the building can be managed, the next step would be to support the arts programs that would use the facility.

Riverfront Theatre Board President Mark Kann is hopeful his professional theater company will be able to take the stage at NAT, although no formal agreement has been made.

“There’s a lot of variables that I’m hoping we can nail down fairly quickly now that Mr. Nordlof has kinda gone public,” Kann said.

A May 28 press release from the theater group stated, “Although several venues for these events are being considered, we have met with the appropriate persons to convey our strong desire to operate full-time in the facility at 118 N. Main St., returning professional theatre to downtown Rockford.”

In March, the Riverfront Theatre Company rose from the ruins of artists, volunteers, patrons and business leaders left in the wake of NAT’s sudden closure. The group is applying for non-profit status, and Kann wants to assure contributors their donations will not be wasted just because someone else owns the facility the group may perform in.

“We are dedicated to putting on theater, whether it’s in that space or someplace else,” Kann asserted. “We’re not a fly-by-night operation. We’re not gonna close it because we didn’t get to buy the building.”

Although still without an official venue, the company’s first season, consisting of three productions, is set for this fall.

Assistant City Adminstrator Julia Scott-Valdez confirmed the City Council’s July 9 decision to extend the Coronado’s operating line of credit from $350,000 to $600,000 was related to the possible acquisition of NAT by the city.

Nordloff, an engineer by trade, is president of Mechanical Tool and Engineering Hydraulics and the Rapid Air Corporation, in addition to being vice president of Delta Power Hydraulic Company. Nordlof also serves on the boards for the AMCORE Foundation and the Rockford Symphony Orchestra.

Nordloff contributed $11,000 to the Morrissey campaign in 2006 and $5,000 to Citizens for Rebuilding Rockford, who were successful in getting Morrissey’s 1 percentage point sales tax increase approved by referendum in April.

Nordlof’s donation of NAT must first be approved by the city council, but Mayor Morrissey is confident NAT still has a place in Rockford’s cultural corridor.

“My goal is, by the fall of this year, that we’ve got a real good plan for the MetroCentre, for the New American Theater and the Coronado Theatre,” Morrissey indicated. “So, we’ll be working hard at that over the next few months.”

from the July 18-24, 2007, issue

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